Manatee colleges, rowing center regroup after budget vetoes

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 27, 2011 

MANATEE -- Local colleges and a developing rowing center took big hits Thursday after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed parts of the $69.7 billion state budget.

The governor nixed $5 million each for a high-tech library at State College of Florida and for a rowing center jointly planned by Sarasota counties and their partner, the Benderson Development Co. LLC. Manatee County has developed an associated rowing training facility at Fort Hamer.

SCF will continue to move forward with planning and preparing the infrastructure for the library on the Bradenton campus because the state allocated a portion of the money in a prior year, said SCF spokeswoman Jessica Klipa.

“We expect to be a priority in next year’s state budget, as we were in this current year,” she said.

Remaining in the budget was $818,253 for repairs and renovation and $21.4 million in operating funds for SCF, with campuses in Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch and Venice.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Bennett on Thursday night told a Lakewood Ranch audience that he did not want to second guess the governor in his veto decisions.

Although Bennett acknowledged he was disappointed at the loss of some local projects, he declined to criticize, saying of the governor: “He made some tough calls, and I want to back him up.”

Also vetoed was $162,723 for capital infrastructure and roof projects at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee.

The governor suggested that the money saved be reinvested in education, but it was unclear exactly how that might happen.

Asked what that might mean, Manatee County Schools Superintendent Tim McGonegal said, “I have not seen any calculation of what that means to us.”

He added, however, that he agreed with Scott’s recommendation that “the very notion of the traditional classroom must be challenged.”

“That’s exactly right,” McGonegal said in response to Scott’s recommendation. “You can’t teach the way we did in 1975.”

The Benderson project manager helping to develop the rowing center, Paul Blackketter, said Thursday he remained undeterred.

He vowed to re-apply for money next year for the World Class International Regatta Sports Center at Nathan Benderson Park, near the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway.

“Economic impact studies say it will generate $150 million annually, and close to 1,000 jobs,” Blackketter said of the facility, which, with improvements, could eventually host world-class rowing events attracting thousands of athletes and fans.

“The bottom line is that in state sales taxes on $150 million, it will generate $6.5 million in one year” as attendees shell out for food, gas and lodging, he said.

About $20 million in construction funds allocated by Sarasota County will keep construction on the project going at least two years, he said.

“We expect to be a priority in next year’s state budget, as we were in this current year,” she said.

New College of Florida lost $4.65 million with the stroke of the veto pen, officials said. The money would have paid for repairs to historic buildings on its campus, which is set on the Manatee-Sarasota line.

“We understand that these are difficult times, and that the governor had many tough decisions to make regarding this year’s budget,” said New College spokesman Jake Hartvigsen.

“While we were disappointed in the governor’s decision to veto the $4.65 million in funds required to make much needed renovations to our historic Caples Campus, which contains two buildings dating back to the 1920s and several others constructed in the 1980s, we were pleased that he did approve $1.6 million in PECO funds for general upkeep and repairs on the New College campus.”

About $950,000 was cut from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, a planning agency of which Manatee County is a member, according to Amy Ellis, communications director.

The agency will continue to develop long- and short-term transportation solutions for seven Tampa Bay counties, she said.

However, its board members and staff were “surprised and greatly disappointed to learn of Gov. Rick Scott’s decision,” she said.

“While TBARTA will continue to operate on existing dollars, the impact to the agency’s budget will be significant and challenging,” she added.

-- Angeline Taylor contributed to this report.

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